"When you are in Second Life, do you pretend to be someone you are not?" This is a question that a college teacher who holds classes in Second Life asks his students. This brings up a hugely important question in virtual worlds and depending on how he meant it, could indicate a fundamental misunderstanding of how virtual worlds work.
When a person adopts an avatar of a different race or gender, or a different persona than how he or she is known in the real world, is it pretending to be someone else, is it exploring different sides of ones’ self, or is it simply being whothe person feels most comfortable being? The question implies that it’s simply pretending to be someone else, but can be far more to it than that. In virtual worlds, it’s common for people to adopt avatars who are very different from their real life identities. It doesn’t have to be pretending to be what they are not.
.This was only one of a long list of issues raised on day three of the Second Life Community Convention.
One fascinating workshop was "Plastic Reality", in which a panel consisting of Kolar Fell, Capn Kurka, Filthy Fluno, Tuna Oddfellow, and Manx Wharton discussed virtual worlds, art, and mixed reality, and showed a video, Synthetic Masquerade, of a mixed reality art exhibit at San Francisco’s Somarts. The video can be seen on YouTube.
One point made by the panel was, "Saying that virtual life isn’t real life is like saying that a phone conversation isn’t a real conversation." The issue of how people outside virtual worlds perceive virtual worlds and their fear and/or misunderstandings were raised in several workshops.
Several workshops discussed ways that Second Life is being used for dealing with social issues; one panelist mentioned it being used for treating substance abuse, and two others discussed their work to create tools that will allow the homeless to gain skills using Second Life, and to provide a a place to call home for a person who doesn’t have one.
Two recurring themes of the workshops were of Second Life’s enormous power as a collaborative tool, bringing together people around the world who otherwise could not work together, or even meet, and as an educational tool. Dr Yesha Sivan showed a particularly amazing machinima for introducing students to Second Life that simultaneously shows what can be done in a virtual world and how virtual world concepts might (some would say "will") emigrate to real life in the not too distant future.